Our solar system is vastly diverse, and can appear even more so depending on one’s perspective. By examining rather average stars such as our sun, one can observe violent and relatively fast processes. The universe appears a much quieter place, however, when viewed from the inner planets. Stars look like grains of dust in relation to galaxies, but as we broaden our view to include galaxy clusters, the galaxies themselves become miniscule to the point where the universe looks increasingly homogenous. And if we ‘zoom out’ even further, we enter the realm of cosmology as we begin to travel more in time than in space.
This course examines these issues, focusing on three main themes: the dynamics and origin of our planetary system; the formation, internal structure, evolution, and end-stages of stars; and an introduction to Friedmann cosmological models. We encounter many common patterns as we travel from local to cosmological scales. We also study physical processes and phenomena that are necessary for the description and understanding of the different stages of life cycles. These include central force motion, angular momentum conservation, quantum statistical distribution functions (blackbody radiation and Fermi gases) and energy transport mechanisms.
After completing this course students are able to:
- give a historical account of the development of astronomy and astrophysics.
- derive Kepler's three laws using Newtonian mechanics.
- describe and estimate tidal effects.
- explain why there are two main types of planets in the solar system and give a qualitative account of their formation, structure and evolution.
- distinguish astronomical parameters such as apparent and absolute magnitudes and luminosity.
- explain the role of spectral analysis in determining the surface temperature, mass, age, and chemical constitution of stars.
- interpret the distribution and evolution of stars in a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.
- introduction t the structure and activity of galaxies.
- explain the simplicity and strength of the cosmological principle.
- give an overview of the possible evolution and fate of the universe in terms of the solutions of the Friedmann equation.
- identify the main observational cosmological parameters: the mass density of the universe, the Hubble constant, the density parameter, the decelaration parameter and the cosmological constant.
The course consists of interactive lectures and discussion periods. As the course emphasizes learning through problem solving, students complete assignments regularly. They also deliver oral group presentations of thirty minutes. Finally, there is at least one excursion to the Westerbork Radio Telescope, the Artis Planetarium, or the Sonnenborgh Observatory. The instructor consults with the students before selecting a destination.